Sep 20, 2019

Average U.S. student debt hits record

Illustration of a graduation cap being weighed down by a ball and chain as the tassel.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The class of 2018 graduated with a record average of $29,200 in loans to help pay for a bachelor's degree, reports USA Today.

Why it matters: It was unusual to graduate with a high amount of debt a few decades ago, but "we have depressed ourselves into a mindset in which $30,000 in debt is acceptable for a degree," Mark Huelsman, an associate director at the left-leaning think tank Demos, told the newspaper.

The big picture: Some schools are trying to address affordability and debt concerns for the cost of an education, but students often use loan money to cover the cost of living expenses.

  • The University of Michigan and the University of Virginia introduced aid programs to help some students pay for classes.
  • New York offers free tuition at some public colleges for residents whose families earn up to $125,000.
  • New Mexico announced a free tuition plan this week for any state resident who attends a public school.

Yes, but: These plans, like many of the free college proposals floated by 2020 Democrats, are geared toward public institutions — meaning that those attending private universities across the country still have to shoulder the burden themselves.

  • Worth noting: The richest and most prestigious private universities often offer extensive financial aid packages of their own. For example, Harvard and Stanford both expect families that make up to $65,000 to contribute nothing — and Stanford offers no tuition charges for families making up to $125,000.

By the numbers:

  • Two out of three of last year's college grads owe more than 2017's.
  • Students who attended college in the Northeast have the highest average debt.
  • Students in Connecticut had the highest average at $38,650, and students in Utah had the lowest at $19,750.
  • "Black students and those from low-income backgrounds were more likely to have debt at graduation," per USA Today.

Go deeper: Debt-free college: Where the 2020 presidential candidates stand

Go deeper